Norton insists no drug shortage crisis

Dr Frank Anthony
Dr Frank Anthony
Public Health Minister Dr George Norton
Public Health Minister Dr George Norton

− PPP maintains problem exists

Public Health Minister, Dr George Norton is maintaining that there is no major shortage of drugs and/or medical supplies within the public health sector as is being peddled by the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Opposition.

Norton was at the time responding to a motion tabled by PPP/C’s Member of Parliament and Shadow Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony. In the motion, the Opposition parliamentarian is calling on the Public Health Minister to launch an immediate investigation into which drugs and medical supplies were not in supply and those that were in short supply (name of the items and the quantities by region) in the public healthcare delivery system.

He also wants the Minister to say what measures have been, and are being taken to rectify this ongoing crisis; the projected timelines for an improvement in the delivery system across the country; and the budgetary implications of these emergency measures, if any; as well as to report on the measures put in place to prevent a reoccurrence.

Addressing the National Assembly, Dr Anthony outlined the importance of many basic but essential drugs and medical supplies that are needed on a daily basis, but are not available at the country’s main medical facility, Georgetown Public Hospital and many other hospitals across the country.

He noted that instead of providing free medication to the public, doctors within the public health system are now writing prescriptions and asking patients to buy them. He said this was putting additional strain on the citizenry who were now burdened with the cost of drugs and medical supplies because of poor management.

Moreover, the Opposition MP outlined that antibiotics were among those common medications that have been regularly “stock out” over the past year. In addition, he stated that in some hospitals where there were antibiotics available, there were no syringes to administer the dosage.

“For example, at New Amsterdam Hospital (Berbice), there’s a shortage of two ml (millilitre), three ml, five ml and 10 ml syringes. This is a basic, basic requirement so even when they have some antibiotics, intravenous antibiotics, they cannot use it because they don’t have syringes and this, Mr Speaker, is only an isolated case, but in many of the regional hospitals you can find similar situation existing,” Dr Anthony disclosed.

The Opposition front-bencher went on to highlight the shortage of basic drugs to treat common illnesses in Guyana such as “worms”, diabetes, malaria, tuberculosis, epileptic seizure (fits), as well as mental health, pregnancy care and women’s and men’s health.

“This shortage is a chronic shortage and is as a result of bad management and poor management… something is definitely wrong with what is going… how will you fix this? We are not hearing anything,” the MP asked of the Government.

Anthony further remarked that Government needed to pay more serious attention to the Zika Virus, noting that it was a major public health risk. The PPP/C parliamentarian also mentioned the controversy with LILAC milk, asking the Health Minister whether the product was recalled and what is the loss incurred from having done so, among other queries.

“The shortages of drugs and medical supplies have serious consequences for the people of this country and we need to put systems in place to ensure that these things do not reoccur and I’m sure the Ministry will tell us what systems are put in place so far,” Dr Anthony stated as he concluded his presentation.

However, in response, Minister Norton posited that while the sector was facing challenges with the new procurement system put in place, there is no drug shortage crisis within the public health sector.

“I want to say, Mr Speaker, that categorically, there is no crisis in the health sector so far as it relates to medicine and medical supplies… I do concede, however, that we have had shortages of a few medical supplies, but not essential medicines as stated before and steps are being taken to remedy this situation,” the Minister stated.

According to Dr Norton, Government is experiencing teething challenges with the new method of procurement put in place by the coalition Administration. Additionally, he stated that during visits to the various regions across Guyana, he would have interacted with regional health officials as well as medical personnel, none of whom complained of such any drug shortages.

Furthermore, the Public Health Minister went on to point out the issue of drug shortages was not new but had been prevalent under the PPP/C regime, as he recalled speaking about the issue in the National Assembly while in Opposition. He outlined too that the previous Administration wasted millions of dollars when significant amounts of drugs would expire.

Nevertheless, Minister Norton disclosed that his Government has taken steps to ensure that there was not a repeat of this situation. “The situation as it stands, where shortage of medical supplies is concerned is a dangerous situation, it is something that we came and met. It is something that we made a commitment that we will change,” he remarked.

According to Dr Norton, among the measures that the coalition will be hoping to achieve are: creating a system where access to medicine and medical supplies will be in sufficient quantity and quality; the issue of expired drugs will be a thing of past, and put in place a system of procurement that will not favour the sole-sourcing process.

The Minister noted that these measures are already becoming reality. On this note, Norton said that the Administration could not support the motion since it would be based on sensationalism and speculation.

Among other speakers on the motion were Jennifer Westford, Yvonne Pearson, Alistair Charlie, Joseph Hamilton, Dr Vishwa Mahadeo and Dr Bheri Ramsarran from the Opposition side, while those from Government’s side included Junior Public Health Minister, Dr Karen Cummings and Jaipaul Sharma.

The motion was turned out after Government used its one-seat majority to vote against it.